'Zoloft,' 'Twinkie,' and Other Debatable Defenses

PHOTO: Pfizer Inc.'s Zoloft is arranged for an illustration at Skenderian Apothecary in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Jan. 22.
JB Reed/Bloomberg/Getty Images

A former police officer accused of kidnapping and raping a 25-year-old waitress in 2010 will be allowed to use the Zoloft defense, a California judge ruled Thursday, claiming he was mentally "unconscious" during the attack because of the antidepressant.

Anthony Nicholas Orban is accused of abducting the woman at gunpoint and making her drive to a storage facility before the attack, the Los Angeles Times reported. If convicted, he could face life in prison.

"But for the use of Zoloft, Mr. Orban would not have committed these acts," Orban's attorney James Blatt told the Times. "Here you have a police officer and former Marine who for the last 10 years has been dedicated to protecting his country and protecting his community. ... This was totally out of character."

A spokesman for Pfizer, the company that makes Zoloft, said in a statement: "There is extensive science supporting the safety and efficacy of Zoloft, and the medicine carries accurate, science-based and FDA-approved information on its benefits and risks."

The drug does carry warnings to call a health care provider if users begin "acting aggressive or violent" or "acting on dangerous impulses."

Orban is not the first person to use the Zoloft defense. Read on for more cases and other debatable defenses.

Debatable Defenses

PHOTO: Pfizer Inc.'s Zoloft is arranged for an illustration at Skenderian Apothecary in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Jan. 22.
JB Reed/Bloomberg/Getty Images
The Zoloft Defense

Zoloft belongs to a class of antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs. The drug is used to treat depression as well as anxiety disorders like panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder.

Side effects typically range from dry mouth to low libido. But for someone with bipolor disorder, Zoloft can cause impulsive behavior.

"There are some people who are treated with a traditional antidepressant for major depressive disorder who in fact have bipolar disorder," said Dr. Joseph Calbrese, director of the Mood Disorders Program at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland. "That can make people cycle from depressive phase into a high, called mania. And a key feature of these highs that make them dangerous is that people get impulsive; they do stupid things they wouldn't normally do."

The Zoloft defense has worked before. In 2004, a Santa Cruz, Calif., man was acquitted of attempted murder after using the Zoloft defense. But in 2005, a jury rejected the defense in the case of a 15-year-old boy who shot his grandparents, the Times reported.

"I've testified in these types of situations in the past, and in my experience it's never the primary driver," said Calabrese. "It can be a factor, though."

Prozac, another SSRI, has also been cited in legal defenses.

Debatable Defenses

PHOTO: Pills of Sanofi-Aventis SA's insomnia medicine Ambien are arranged for a photo at New London Pharmacy in New York.
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The Ambien Defense

The prescription sleep aid Ambien can help insomniacs get a good night's rest. But the drug, which belongs to a class called "hypnotics," can also cause strange behavior like sleep-eating, sleep-driving, sleep-sex, even violence.

"A variety of abnormal thinking and behavior changes have been reported to occur in association with the use of sedative/hypnotics," according to the website for Sanofi, the company that makes Ambien. "Amnesia, anxiety and other neuro-psychiatric symptoms may occur unpredictably."

Ambien use has been raised in a range of defenses, from driving under the influence, as in Patrick Kennedy's 2006 car accident at the U.S. Capitol Complex in Washington, D.C., to domestic violence and rape.

Debatable Defenses

PHOTO: Woman with stomach cramps.
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The PMS Defense

Premenstrual syndrome has been linked to mood swings, irritability, anger and poor concentration, symptoms some women have used as a legal defense.

In 1991, a 42-year-old orthopedic surgeon was acquitted of drunken driving after a gynecologist testified that her behavior – which included erratic driving, foul language and attempting to kick a state trooper in the groin – was consistent with PMS, the Baltimore Sun reported.

And in 1982, a 24-year-old mother accused of beating her daughter when she refused to be quiet claimed diminished capacity because of premenstrual stress, the New York Times reported.

Debatable Defenses

PHOTO: The Foundation is an album by Geto Boys released in 2005.
Elektra Records
The 'Geto Boys' Hypnosis Defense

In 1991, two teens charged with murder claimed they were "temporarily hypnotized" by Geto Boys rap music.

Attorneys for Christopher Martinez and Vincent Perez, both 16 at the time, said a combination of marijuana, alcohol and Geto Boys music may have prompted the crime, the Houston Chronicle reported.

James Smith, president of the Geto Boys' record label Rap-a-Lot Records, rejected the defense.

"Everyone knows that normal people do not listen to a tape, have a couple of drinks and run around shooting people," he told the Chronicle.

Debatable Defenses

PHOTO: A photo of a twin pack of Hostess Twinkies is viewed in Washington,DC.
Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images
The Twinkie Defense

More so a depression defense, the "Twinkie defense" helped Dan White skirt first-degree murder charges for the 1978 assassination of San Francisco City Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone.

White's attorneys argued he had diminished capacity because of depression. The Twinkies were part of White's junk food diet, a symptom of his depression, his attorneys claimed.

White was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to seven years in prison.

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